E-mail is a hugely successful phenomenon, letting us communicate with far more people using far less effort than any previous communications medium.
But this facility has its dark side–the incessant bombardment of e-mail
in-boxes with ads for illegal “Make Money Fast” pyramid schemes,
pornographic Web sites, quack healthcare remedies, and other come-ons.
As a result, some people misguidedly regard all bulk e-mail as “spam,” a
derogatory term for untargeted, unsolicited bulk e-mail. But if you flip
the spam concept on its head, you have a powerful tool you can use to reach
a lot of people quickly and inexpensively–for business as well as personal
The Opt-in Option
To make it work, you keep the bulk part–sending many messages out. But
instead of flinging out untargeted missives, you target your messages to
the interests of your recipients. And instead of heaving them unsolicited–this is crucial–you ask your recipients’ permission before encroaching upon their e-mail in-boxes. You make sure they “opt in.”
One of the best uses for opt-in bulk e-mail is e-mail newsletters. But as
with bulk e-mail in general, there are pitfalls here as well as promises.
To sort out one from the other, I talked to the Queen of e-Newsletters,
Debbie Weil. Along with running her own Washington, D.C. consulting
firm that specializes in helping businesses set up e-newsletters, Weil
publishes WordBiz Report at http://www.wordbiz.com.
“The biggest mistake businesspeople make with e-newsletters is thinking
like a promoter, not a publisher,” says Weil. “Hype-y, direct-response
writing doesn’t work with e-mail newsletters,” she says. “It’s a turnoff.”
Even if your objective is marketing, you need to provide information that’s
useful to your recipients, not to yourself. Put yourself in the shoes of
typical recipients. Provide them with substantive, accurate, and
comprehensive information that meets their needs, and present it in a
“If you blast out gaudy graphics and promotional copy that shouts, ‘Check
out the widget we have for sale this month!’ the response you’ll receive
will be ‘So what!’ ” says Weil. “People are tired of e-mail promotions jamming
Frequency & Technology
Whether you send your e-newsletter to customers or prospects, if you do it
right by being truly useful, it will be time-consuming. That’s why Weil
doesn’t recommend doing it more than once a month.
She also recommends keeping e-newsletter issues short, no longer than 1,000
words. With e-mail, people expect to get in and out quickly.
Weil and I differ a bit about whether to use HTML, the language of the Web. Although it’s easier than ever these days to create e-mail messages using HTML, I think “come-on” whenever I see one. She recommends it as being easier to read, though, and if recipients have opted in to receive an HTML newsletter, I can see how they would be receptive to it.
Concerning mechanics, Weil recommends two Web-based application service
providers (ASPs) that specialize in helping people create e-newsletters and
manage subscription lists for them.
Constant Contact, at http://www.constantcontact.com, is the less expensive.
It’s free for up to 50 recipients, $10 per month for up to 250 recipients,
and $25 per month for up to 2,500 recipients, with prices continuing to
rise incrementally from there.
IMakeNews, at http://www.imakenews.com, starts at $200 per month, but has
beefier content management features, including a companion Web site for
your e-newsletter. Both services offer free trial periods.
A simple alternative appropriate for low-volume personal or family
e-newsletters is using your regular e-mail software.
But don’t just paste a long block of e-mail addresses into the “To”
(sometimes referred to as “Mail To”) or “cc” (carbon copy) address lines.
This results in an e-mail message with a large header that not only looks
ugly but can force recipients to scroll down repeatedly to get to your message.
Instead, if your e-mail program supports it, use the blind copy line
(typically identified as “bcc” or “Blind cc”). By sending an e-mail message
to yourself and pasting recipients’ e-mail addresses here, you can hide
these addresses from the other recipients.
To build a subscriber base for a business e-newsletter, your best bet is to
include an opt-in box at relevant pages of your Web site, including your
check-out page if you have one. Don’t assume that if someone visits your
Web site or even purchases from you that they want to receive your
“As with spam, people regard that as an invasion of privacy, and they’ll
respond with anger,” says Weil.
Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book “Straight
Talk About the Information Superhighway.” He can be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org or http://www.netaxs.com/~reidgold/column.